Commentary

Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 9

Updated: May 27, 2011, 12:27 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

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We respect the big winners of the CART-IRL schism era, to a point. It's not their fault -- they raced against the fields at hand -- but we have to question the competition they beat. You IndyCar loyalists who get riled, just bear with us. One of your stars is still to come.


Helio Castroneves

25. Helio Castroneves

Indy 500 starts: 10
Best finish (years): First (2001, 2002, 2009)
Laps led: 231

Easily the most successful of the post-split drivers, but that has to be considered relative. Since the first CART boycott of Indy and the emergence of the Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) in 1996, the old race's prestige has been badly damaged, and the overall talent of its fields of drivers has been chronically questioned.

And so, many doubt that Castroneves beat the level of competition faced by other three-time Indy winners, such as Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford.

But there is zero doubt that the effervescent Brazilian soared to instant status among the 500's most colorful winners of all time, beginning with his "Spiderman" act, climbing the safety fence in celebration, and in salute to the fans, following his first win, in 2001.

And old-line CART supporters may forever consider Castroneves' second win, in '02, questionable. That year, his Team Penske had switched to full IRL loyalty. Visiting CART loyalist Paul Tracy passed Castroneves just as the final caution came out. But IRL officials said the pass occurred an instant after the yellow lights had come on, and awarded the win to Castroneves.



Dario Franchitti

26. Dario Franchitti

Indy 500 starts: Seven
Best finish (years): First (2007, 2010)
Laps led: 255

Suffered from the worst of all sides of the Indy car schism. After leaping to stardom in CART in 1998, Franchitti for four years was denied participation in the 500 due to the boycott.

Then after finally arriving at Indy in 2002, Franchitti finished no better than sixth until he won the rain-shortened race of '07. Even then, his win was overshadowed by the dramatic reaction of his wife, actress Ashley Judd, who ran barefoot through the downpour to an improvised Victory Lane in the garage area.

He missed the 500 in 2008 due to a star-crossed attempt to run NASCAR full-time.

But his clear-cut win of 2010, after he led 155 of 200 laps, seals his place as the second-most successful post-split driver, behind Castroneves.



Juan Pablo Montoya

27. Juan Pablo Montoya

Indy 500 starts: One
Best finish (years): First (2000)
Laps led: 167

For a single shining, dominant, statement-making performance, Montoya wins hands-down post-split. He was the runaway winner as a rookie in 2000, leading 167 laps.

Montoya joined 1911 inaugural 500 winner Ray Harroun as the only driver to bat 1.000 at Indy, going one-for-one. Like Harroun, Montoya raced there once, won once, and didn't return.

His win was a last great testimonial to CART superiority in the disastrous schism. The 2000 race marked then-CART loyalist owner Chip Ganassi's return to Indy for the first time since '95.

Ganassi bought IRL-legal equipment and his crew assembled and tuned the cars while they and defending CART season champion Montoya were running a full CART schedule.

Seldom has a driver made a 500 win look easier than Montoya did that day.


Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.